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Transformational Refractions of Social Messages in the Rock Art of Huánuco, Peru

  • Author(s): Dubois, Jonathan
  • Advisor(s): Patterson, Thomas C
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

This dissertation examines rock art from 20 sites in the District of Huánuco, in the Central Andes of Peru. The art spans the history of human occupation in the Andes; from approximately the seventh millennium BCE to the sixteenth century CE. When analyzed diachronically, the paintings elucidate changing social practices, as they relate to the relations between people and the creation of anthropogenic landscapes. As markings on stone, pictographs served to advertise territorial connections, but also reveal the primary importance of the land in instantiating and negotiating social relations for the Pre-Columbian peoples of Huánuco.

Episodes of painting were identified through a combination of stratigraphic analysis, revealed through an examination of instances of superposition, and the existence of stylistic relationships evident in an analysis of the formal qualities of the art. Chronology was subsequently revealed using stylistic seriation, cross-dating between sites, and analyzing the styles and motifs in comparison with art from other, more securely dated materials. This combined methodology allowed the chronological placement of the art to be determined without damaging or altering it.

The data were analyzed through the lens of Andean ethnographies and ethnohistories that relate to the themes depicted, and in combination with archaeological data from within and outside the study area. This analysis revealed the multifaceted functions of rock art, as well as illuminating some of the changing social trends and cosmological beliefs in the region. Some of the main themes that emerged from this analysis are an early focus on animals shifting to a focus on camelids as they were domesticated, the sharing of motifs and themes with Amazonian peoples beginning in the Preceramic Period (3000-1800 BCE), and a later emphasis on anthropomorphic figures that are interpreted as the founding ancestors of local social groups beginning in the Early Intermediate Period (200-700 CE).

The dissertation demonstrates that the creation of rock art was a practice that was far more actively engaged in the initiation, documentation, and negotiation of the social arrangements of Andean people than has heretofore been acknowledged or understood.

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